The St. Louis Cardinals might be the perfect team to test the concept of eliminating the starting rotation.
Their starters, as a group, have been terrible while their bullpen has been pretty spectacular. The team is flush with arms. But I don’t see any ace anywhere. At least not right now. Maybe Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes or Dakota Hudson will grow into one.
Right now, the Cardinals have a bunch of guys who can sometimes be pretty good in short bursts. But no one Who is going to consistently dominate over seven innings. So why not take the pressure off by taking the 13 guys on the pitching staff and having them each pitch two or three innings at a time? Jordan Hicks can be saved for the closer roll. But, besides that, everyone else would just be on a merry go round, waiting for their next turn to come up.
Adam Wainwright would likely prosper if freed from a pitch count to just do his best for two or three innings at a time. With his age and the miles on his arm, it seems as if he starts strong on many occasions but runs out of gas when the defense strings him out with a couple of untimely misplays. And it would benefit the other guys that opposing hitters wouldn’t have a chance to get used to facing them. Good hitters usually get better the second or third time a game they face the same hurler. So give them a different look every time at the plate. This tactic would probably be even more useful when the next stupid tweak to the rules the Commissioner’s Office could dream up will require pitchers to face at least three hitters per appearance. There will be no need to save your lefty for a big potential matchup against the other team’s star slugger. Everyone is equal. There are no more specialists.
The problem is, we live in the real world where guys like Flaherty get upset when their contract is renewed for less than they feel they deserve. Imagine the reaction of guys on the team when the Cardinals announce they’re eliminating one of the most lucrative jobs in baseball — starting pitcher — to turn everybody into a middle reliever, the least lucrative job on the pitching staff.
Here’s a hypothetical conversation:
John Mozeliak: “Jack, you pitched 70 innings last year and had an ERA of 2.50 with 85 strikeouts. But you’re a middle reliever, so how about signing a three-year extension for $9 million.”
Jack Flaherty: “You know where you can cram that contract. I’m going to go pitch for the Chicago Cubs for $125 million over five years.”
How would you feel if your boss told that you could never advance from an entry level position to the job you’ve prepared yourself for and dreamed about your whole life? Most people, I imagine, would start looking for a different place to work. I know I would.
The Redbirds better improve at developing pitchers more quickly. Because a change to this sort of set up is going to make every decent one they have count down the days until he can leave as agree agent.
The Giants proposed a similar idea this spring in which a reliever would hurl the first inning of games. Their ace, Madison Bumgarner, said he would head for the exit before he’d settle for that arrangement. Imagine how a younger player who hadn’t secured his first multi-year contract would feel. There is zero chance that the Cardinals would be able to keep those guys with a deal that buys out any free agent years. None.
I think there is a good chance this sort of unorthodox approach would make St. Louis better right now. But I think there is an even better change that it would make the team one that no self-respecting pitcher will ever want to work for.
So, instead of trying to get creative with the roster they have, maybe the Cardinals should build a better roster. I don’t doubt that Hudson, Reyes and Flaherty could someday be great pitchers. But you can’t have three youngsters in the rotation at a time along with a pair of veterans who have an injury history as long as their pitching arm. Bad things are going to happen. If you have two legit top of the rotation starters good for 225 innings each, you can mess around more with the back half of the rotation because your bullpen isn’t going to be overworked all the time. But St. Louis doesn’t have anyone to fit that description.